Rationality, Perception and the All-Seeing Eye

Felin, Teppo, Koenderink, Jan and Krueger, Joachim I (2016) Rationality, Perception and the All-Seeing Eye. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. pp. 1-20. (Accepted)

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Seeing—perception and vision—is implicitly the fundamental building block of the literature on rationality and cognition. Herbert Simon and Daniel Kahneman’s arguments against the omniscience of economic agents—and the concept of bounded rationality—depend critically on a particular view of the nature of perception and vision. We propose that this framework of rationality merely replaces economic omniscience with perceptual omniscience. We show how the cognitive and social sciences feature a pervasive but problematic meta-assumption that is characterized by an “all-seeing eye.” We raise concerns about this assumption and discuss different ways in which the all-seeing eye manifests itself in existing research on (bounded) rationality. We first consider the centrality of vision and perception in Simon’s pioneering work. We then point to Kahneman’s work—particularly his article “Maps of Bounded Rationality”—to illustrate the pervasiveness of an all-seeing view of perception, as manifested in the extensive use of visual examples and illusions. Similar assumptions about perception can be found across a large literature in the cognitive sciences. The central problem is the present emphasis on inverse optics—the objective nature of objects and environments: e.g., size, contrast, color. This framework ignores the nature of the organism and perceiver. We argue instead that reality is constructed and expressed, and we discuss the species-specificity of perception, as well as perception as a user interface. We draw on vision science as well as the arts to develop an alternative understanding of rationality in the cognitive and social sciences. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of our arguments for the rationality and decision making literature in cognitive psychology and behavioral economics, along with suggesting some ways forward.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: rationality, perception, cognition, social science
Subject(s): Strategy
Date Deposited: 08 Nov 2016 11:32
Date of author-version deposit: 31 October 2016
Last Modified: 12 Jul 2017 08:56
Funders: N/A
URI: http://eureka.sbs.ox.ac.uk/id/eprint/6235

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